Seeking Sun and Sand in Peniche, Portugal
Surfers, sunshine and seaside cocktails are enough to lure any land-locked Londoner southwards. NICOLE CROWLEY goes in search of all three in the fishing town of Peniche, Portugal, with mixed success.
WHEN October hits and London is laced in drizzle and wrapped up in a tight grey envelope of mist and looming rain, there’s only one thing left for an Australian girl to do: find the nearest plane ticket to the sun. Or, in this case, the RipCurl Pro tour in Peniche, Portugal – just north of Lisbon.
Prepping for Peniche
I did what any prepared traveller would do. I immediately downloaded the official Rip Curl Pro iPhone app (substantial start), googled the weather (a balmy 22 degrees), studied the Pro tour lingo (now fluent from ankle biters to gnarly swells) and recruited two accomplices to share the journey (both readily available to spam with Instagram photos of cute surfers until said departure date).
What one really should have done was study up on Lisbon attractions and historical landmarks, prepared for cooler weather, familiarised oneself with basic Portuguese and located a bus timetable.
The 12-day tournament began on 10 October and was generating considerable hype. Touching down on 15 October, Lisbon delivered a promising atmosphere of sunshine, clear skies and traditional terracotta rooftop homes.
However, the initial journey from Lisbon proved to be a mission: almost like one must proves ones worthiness to find the mythical fish town of Peniche. In full disclosure, I’m aware this sounds mildly dramatic, but when Portuguese is not a dialect you’re familiar with, even remedial tasks like purchasing a ticket seem all the more challenging.
Searching for the Surf
From the airport you take the bus (€3) to the main bus station, where the Rede-Express will escort your impatient self direct to Peniche. It will cost €9, but does have free Wi-Fi on board. All in all, the journey is about two hours and 105km.
While this is definitely the most cost effective route – a taxi will set you back over €100 – two friends hired a car at the airport. Although this seemed elitist and unnecessary at the time, after two bus changes it is decidedly a better option.
The beach stretch of Peniche was an exciting set up of surf shacks, media tents, Rip Curl stores, pop-up cocktail bars and surfboard shrines. Round three of the heats wrapped up before a lay day was called due to slowing surf conditions.
It suddenly became apparent that if you weren’t heading into the surf yourself for leisure, or if you’d already had lunch and purchased a souvenir Rip Curl Pro t-shirt, then there really wasn’t very much for you to do in Peniche.
Top tip: travelling on weekdays has its downsides regarding nightlife.
Ducking out for a daytrip
The next day was heralded another lay day. Perfect. Even more perfectly; I woke with the fogginess of a hangover and peered through the windows to find myself in London. The sky was grey and threatening me with rain.
With little to do in Peniche – we didn’t fish, after all – Lisbon awaited. For €18, it’s worthwhile to take a tram and tour the city with a company guide. The sky had cleared (miracle!) and the city is actually sprinkled with little gems, such as the Santa Justa Lift in Restaurandores Square. Known as the Elevador do Carmo, it is a lift that connects the streets of the Baixa (the Lower Town) to the higher Carmo Square where you can take in panoramic views of the entire city for €5.
The Metro – the London Tube equivalent – is made difficult due to a lack of English signs, although it’s only a short ride from Jardim Zoologica (Lisbon Zoo) to Baixa Chiado, and €3.50 for a return ticket. Had I been better prepared for a Lisbon day trip, St. George’s Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge) would have definitely been worth paying a visit.
All’s well that ends well
I can’t say I was overwhelmed with a sense of local hospitality in Portugal, save for the hotel receptionist who attempted to allocate his very tipsy friend to drive me to the bus station in the wake of no taxis. However there is a definitive laidback culture and easiness to the Portuguese beach town of Peniche that made me wistful for the shores of Australia.
And while I can’t say I’ll be running back to Portugal any time soon, the Rip Curl Pro did avoid the looming storm that threatened the primary venue and finally resumed on 18 October. Close up snaps of Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater were taken, beach mojitos were ordered and all is well that ends well with 23-year-old, Julian Wilson, claiming his title as ASP World Championship Tour winner. An Australian, naturally.
Tightening our cardigans and shredding the surf lingo, we said a final “Ola” to Peniche and got ready to once again fight the Saturday masses on Oxford Street, mind the gaps between the train and platform, and duck into Marks & Spencers for some of those Percy Pigs we’d missed.